Miley Cyrus' solo debut relies on the fun, empowering pop that made her famous

July 22, 2008


Girls, they wanna have fun. Oh, girls just wanna have fun.

Well, that and they’re eager to become women — sometimes, parents fear, long before they’re ready.

To anyone familiar with Miley Cyrus, the reigning teen-pop princess of the moment, the troubling thing about her much-hyped half-naked photo in Vanity Fair and pronouncements such as her desire to make a teen version of “Sex in the City” weren’t that they signified the 15-year-old singer and actress closing in on the age when she’ll abandon her Hannah Montana alter-ego, split from the mighty Disney machine and attempt to forge a career of her own. The inevitability of that has long been obvious even to 9-year-old Miley/Hannah super fans.

What was disturbing about the well-coordinated media tease about the “next phase” of Cyrus’ career was the crassness of it all from a previously pitch-perfect brand that seemed to have more in common with the rare child-star success (Hilary Duff) than the many hopeless train-wrecks (Linday Lohan, Vanessa Hudgens, Britney Spears, etc.).

It was as unnerving as New Coke: How could a company that had done everything so right for so long suddenly get it all so wrong?

The good news about Cyrus’ first album under her own name is that it mostly offers a fresh helping of more of what’s made her fans happy: cheerfully precocious, fundamentally innocuous up-tempo pop that encourages self-empowerment through self-esteem, gently feminist in its polite and polished way, and delivered by an undeniably appealing voice that’s not unlike a young version of the Bonnie Raitt rasp.

Our heroine still thinks a lot about kissing, but she’s got a lot of expectations from and requirements for the lucky fella who gets to taste her lip gloss: The rollicking first single is called “7 Things,” and it’s a list of all the ways a previous suitor fell short.

Another winner is the title track, co-written by Go-Go’s drummer Gina Schock, and sounding a lot like that band. “Every week’s the same / Stuck in school, so lame / My parents say that I’m lazy / Being up at 8 a.m.’s crazy,” Cyrus sings. There isn’t a schoolgirl in America who can’t relate to that, but then the artist delivers the lines that make me a fan: “Tired being told what to do / So unfair / So uncool!”

You go, girl! Patti Smith couldn’t have said it better.

“Breakout” is not without its flaws: The producers smother a cover of the Cyndi Lauper hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” with synthesized strings; ballads such as “Bottom of the Ocean” and “These Four Walls” are unnecessarily plodding, and the lyrics of the environmental anthem “Wake Up America” read like a civics essay by a high school sophomore.

Of course, that’s exactly what Cyrus is, and despite the publicity to the contrary, she still sounds happy about. On “Breakout” as on her earlier releases, that enthusiasm is infectious.